This post originally appeared as part of the Email a Believer blog at RE Online
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Perhaps Easter is the most sacred as I reflect on the sacrifice, death and resurrection of the Saviour Jesus Christ, but Christmas has always been a time where I feel the joy of my Saviour’s birth and also the joy of family. My wife and I have four gorgeous children who range in age from 12-21, and Christmas is a time to take time out of our hectic lives and enjoy one another’s company as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. The specialness of a family Christmas is something that I have always been blessed to enjoy- one of my earliest memories is of attending an Anglican Christingle service on Christmas Eve and the contented sleepiness I enjoyed on the bus as we travelled home. I am grateful to a mum who ensured that Christmas was both enjoyable and sacred.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from my teenage years I have often been asked if I celebrate Christmas. I guess the question comes from not quite knowing some of my most sacred beliefs about the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ. I thought I would take the opportunity in this blog to share how I celebrate Christmas as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints- I will take last year as an example, but should mention that this is how my family celebrate, others may do things slightly differently.
Christmas begins early in our house. From early November I’m listening to Christmas songs on the radio- I have a seven-and-a-half-hour playlist on my music library. One of my children loves this- the youngest; my wife smiles patiently, and my son rolls his eyes and asks to change the station. Present buying may begin earlier than that, but that is if we see bargains that we think people will like. If we’re not sorted by the first week or so of December then we begin to panic.
Our Christmas decorations go up just before the beginning of Advent, this includes two trees- when we moved to our house we just had one in the living room but that meant that the front of the house looked undecorated, so we now have one in the dining room too. This is a family event where all of us are together listening to Christmas music, breaking out the Christmas movies and eating some of the Christmas sweets. Central to our decorations is a nativity scene that reminds us of the reason for the season. It was slightly different last year as our eldest daughter, Eleanor, was in Guadeloupe for 18 months serving a mission for the Church- and so everything was slightly incomplete though we were thrilled that it would be her last Christmas away from us as she had just reached her 13 month mark.
We also had the naughty elf visit the house for our youngest daughter- this isn’t anything to do with a religious practice more to do with culture and madness.
During Advent we have calendars but for the last few years the Church has organised a ‘Light the World’ social media and social action campaign. Last year this involved completing certain things each day in following the example of the Saviour. Each day began with a reading of a scripture, the watching of a 2 minute video produced by the Church; for example 11thDecember was ‘I was a stranger and ye took me in’- all of that day I was conscious of how I could help others. One simple way was the giving of a hot chocolate to someone on the street. I realise this is something that I should be doing every day of my life, and I suppose that was the purpose of the activities. The Church also introduced vending machines- which this year can be found in London, through which a person can donate specific things to a charity- money to buy a pair of glasses for an eye charity, or food to be donated to a food bank. These help us focus on people outside of ourselves at Christmas time, and hopefully it can become a habit in our discipleship throughout the year.
In our ward (parish) of which I serve as Bishop there are numerous activities for different groups of people: our Primary (children aged 2-11); Youth (12-18); Young Single Adults (18-30); Relief Society (Women’s organisation). We had someone in each of these groups last year and so there was a lot of activities to calendar. In some ways it nice to get to Christmas week.
Christmas Eve last year was a Sunday so our day began with our normal Church service with the sacrament (eucharist of bread and water), Christmas Carols and homilies- all of which focussed on the Saviour. In the evening we returned to Church for our traditional Christmas Eve nativity- last year’s was a bit special as we had decorated the hall for ‘A Night in Bethlehem’ and invited everyone to come dressed for the evening (tea towels and all) with donations for a local food bank. The nativity unfolded around us. We ended the evening with carols and cocoa.
We returned to our home- all the children receive new pyjamas. We light candles and climb the stairs with stockings. The children (even at their ages) can’t wait to go to bed- it’s usually around 10pm.
Christmas morning begins with the opening of stockings, and then going downstairs around 7am to see if Santa has been. Present unwrapping ensues!! Then at 1030 we have a Carol service at Church where we have readings from the Nativity story and carols. We have some members of our ward who don’t open presents until after they have been to Church- we’ve never been that strong willed- having said that, they have no problem getting everyone in the car to go home. We then go home for a Christmas dinner with extended family followed by Doctor Who!
Last year was slightly different- missionaries for the Church email and write home each week, but can only Skype on Mother’s Day and Christmas Day. Our usual activities were organised around Eleanor Skyping at around 8pm for an hour. This made our Christmas extra special- we were able to see that the packages we had sent had arrived, and that she was well and happy. Earlier that day we had hosted our local missionaries for dinner so that they could Skype their parents. This year will be even more special as we are back together- a family of six.
I’m not sure that our Christmas is that different to most other people’s. Maybe that’s why I’ve shared this in the blog post. Most of all we try and make it focussed on the Saviour- maybe inevitably, we sometimes get caught up in the excitement of the activities but there are lots of activities throughout Advent and on Christmas that help us reorient our celebrations.